Is the Blessing of Non-Communicants the Norm?

Peter Balbirnie

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

827 North Fourth Street

Steubenville, OH 43952

800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

Editor's Note: To submit a faith question to Catholic Exchange, email Please note that all email submitted to Catholic Exchange becomes the property of Catholic Exchange and may be published in this space. Published letters may be edited for length and clarity. Names and cities of letter writers may also be published. Email addresses of viewers will not normally be published.

Dear Catholic Exchange:

If a person has mortal sin on their soul and is not going to receive communion until he/she goes to confession, is it still okay to go in the communion line to receive a blessing from the priest?

Also, if this person does go up to receive a blessing, crosses his/her arms over their heart, and the priest is confused and asks, “Are you not Catholic?”, what is that person supposed to do? Obviously this person can't stand there and have a conversation explaining that he/she is Catholic, has mortal sin on his/her soul, and wants to receive a blessing. In addition, is it wrong for this person to accept communion to avoid a conversation in the communion line, then hold onto the communion until this person goes to confession? Also, what kinds of qualifications are there for a person to teach RCIA? Or at least help out with teaching it?

Thanks so much!

Brittany Brown

Dear Brittany,

Peace in Christ!

While the Church does not specifically prohibit priests from blessing non-communicants during the distribution of Holy Communion, neither does She provide for it. In general, if something is not provided for in the liturgical rubrics, it is not envisioned. At the same time, because the Church has not addressed the matter specifically, some individual bishops have provided instructions to guide the faithful in their dioceses. The larger context of the liturgy of the Eucharist within the Mass provides principles to apply to the question of blessing non-communicants.

One reason given for the blessing of non-communicants is the discomfort that non-communicants might feel at being left in the pews. A blessing seems to be a way to welcome and provide for those who cannot receive Communion. This desire to provide for everyone is good. However, sometimes providing for everyone can diminish the importance of pointing to the greatest good — in this case, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

The discomfort a person may feel at being “left in the pews” is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be an opportunity to catechize and (for non-Catholics) can even lead to a person’s conversion. A person’s discomfort at being unable to receive Communion points to the need for unity and reconciliation — both within the Christian community and with God.

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput suggests that blessings during Communion are not appropriate. He recommends a return to the practice of spiritual communion:

“Both children and adults can make a spiritual communion. They may come forward with their arms crossed and bow before the Eucharist. Then the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister could say to them kindly, “Receive the Lord Jesus in your heart.” This is not a blessing, but an invitation to worship, so no gestures are made.

“This spiritual communion would more authentically carry out the spirit of the liturgy. Being faithful to the truths of the sacramental celebration allows all of us, young and old, to enter more deeply into worship” (“Communion Procession Offers Opportunity to Teach Reverence” Denver Catholic Register, 12 Feb. 2003).

In the absence of instructions from the Holy See or the Bishops’ Conference, the blessing of non-Communicants remains a pastoral matter addressed at the local level. A bishop may provide instructions for his diocese, or he may entrust the matter to the discretion of the pastors of his diocese. You may want to check with your pastor to determine the policy in your diocese regarding the offering of blessings in the communion line.

Given the concern expressed about a conversation in the communion line, in light of the above, the person may want to consider remaining in the pew during the distribution of Holy Communion until he or she can receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

On the other hand, if the parish provides for the blessing of non-communicants during communion and the individual wants to receive a blessing, it is best to avoid making this an “event” that would detract from Communion. If the priest appears confused by the non-communicant’s crossed arms, the individual may consider quietly and politely asking for a blessing or simply continuing back to the pew without any disruption of the communion line.

The qualifications necessary for participation in the teaching within the RCIA process vary from diocese to diocese and from parish to parish. You may want to check with your pastor regarding the required qualifications in your parish.

United in the Faith,

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage